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Ohio Benefits Bank sees needs in eastern end

CHESAPEAKE — It’s a long-term goal with no timetable set so far. But a site office for the Ohio Benefits Bank could be in the future for eastern Lawrence County.

Tuesday was the first time for the benefits bank to come to the Chesapeake area to help residents in the application process for such programs as Medicaid, food stamps and energy assistance and the four counselors who came to county had a busy day.

Each had four appointments an hour. In fact by the afternoon, the counselors were no longer able to take walk-ins because the demand for the service was so great.

That shows those in charge of the Columbus-based counseling service that there is a need for more than one site in the county. Currently, the benefits bank works out of Ironton’s CAO office.

“It is a very untapped area when it comes to outreach to these areas,” Jessica May, regional coordinator of the southeast Ohio Benefits Bank, said. “We know there is a very large population down here who have needs.”

The OBB is a product of Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration with the goal of helping applicants in the initial steps of the benefits application process. It also provides free income tax preparation.

“It deals with the No. 1 barriers faced when accessing these benefits,” May said. “We try to empower people with information to lift the veil of mystery around benefits. They should be empowered because these are their benefits. They can take control of their own life and be more successful in accessing benefits.”

According to its Web site, “more than $1.6 million in tax credits and public benefits are not claimed every year by eligible Ohioans and more than 95 percent of these unclaimed funds are federal dollars.”

The OBB doesn’t determine eligibility of any Ohioan for benefits, but guides applicants through the first steps of getting benefits. Often their efforts cut the time it takes for applicants to receive benefits.

May said the OBB will be back in the county, but had no immediate dates scheduled.